What is Knowledge?

The two opening chapters of What is This Thing Called Knowledge? by Duncan Pritchard address the following questions: What is knowledge? and Why should we care about it? These same general questions were asked by Simon Blackburn in his book, Think. In it’s introduction, Blackburn tells us that obtaining the answers to these inquiries is a matter of reflection since we don’t exactly know how to begin determining their conclusions (Blackburn 2). In order to have the type of knowledge in question, propositional knowledge, you are required to believe the appropriate proposition, which, in turn, must be true (Prithard 5). Therefore, we see that knowledge requires truth as well as belief. This leads us to an interesting point. Does believing/thinking something make it true? Pritchard argues that it doesn’t. When someone believes something, they believe it to be true, and it may or may not be. Once it is determined that said proposition is, in fact, true, we must decide if the person actually knew or was subject to a lucky guess. It could be the case that they did actually know it was true, and it was, but Prithard tells us that you cannot gain knowledge completely by chance (Pritchard 6). This means that making a guess at something and coincidentally being right does not mean you have actual knowledge of it. Let’s now look at the second question that was posed. Why should we care about knowledge (and true beliefs)? There are different  approaches to responding to this question. According to Pritchard, we are aided in achieving our goals in life by true beliefs. This is because it is useful, if not necessary, to possess knowledge that was applicable to these goals. Blackburn outlines the high, middle, and low-ground approaches as to why we should care about knowledge. The middle-ground is most likely to be accepted. It proposes that reflection is continuous with practice meaning that the way you do things is a result of how you thought about it which is why it matters. It even affects whether or not you do said thing at all (Blackburn 4). Reflecting on and thinking about the truth of things does not equate to knowledge on the subject. Pritchard contrasts and ranks the differences between true and false beliefs and actual knowledge. True beliefs are better than false ones, but knowledge is even better. Knowledge tends to be more concrete. It becomes ingrained, whereas true beliefs are unstable and subject to change (Pritchard 14). You may believe in something and find it isn’t as reliable as you thought, and lose that belief. On the other hand, if you know something for sure, it would be difficult to change how you think about it. As much sense as this makes, Plato argues the contrary in a way that is also justifiable. In Meno, he supports that if someone has no knowledge of something, but has a correct opinion, they can be equally as useful as someone possessing knowledge. This raises the question of the value of knowledge. Ultimately, knowledge is important because the man who has it will most definitely succeed, whereas the one with simply a right opinion may not (Plato 343-4).


Blackburn, Simon. Think: A Compelling Introduction to Philosophy. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1999. Print.

Plato, and R. S. Bluck. Meno. Cambridge: U, 1961. Print.

Pritchard, Duncan. What Is This Thing Called Knowledge? London: Routledge, 2006. Print.


2 thoughts on “What is Knowledge?

  1. I agree with the reasons that you gave for why knowledge is important. I would like to further add an area that Pritchard touched in the second chapter which was the instrumental value of knowledge itself. Pritchard concluded that while knowledge is not always instrumentally valuable, it is generally instrumentally valuable as it enables us to achieve more of our goals. I also agree with you that knowledge is even better than true belief as it has more instrumental value due to its greater stability, and it will always be more useful.

  2. You did a nice job explaining that knowledge is not simply believing. There needs to also be truth attached to this belief. However, as Plutarch and you also point out, the true belief needs to also be credible and deriving from luck. I think another way to back up your argument is mentioning that truth is not simply a personal take. As Plutarch comments towards the end of chapter 1, there is an objective aspect to truth. It’s not up to you or I or anyone else that something is true, but simply if it is. An example similar to Plutarch’s “The earth is round” is that me thinking that fish live in the water and not on land does not make it true, that is just simply true because it’s how fish live.

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